The pen is definitely mightier than the Mac

For the past three years at Tech, I’ve been on a mission. No, I’m not talking about my degree. I’ve been on a mission to figure out the best way to take class notes.

I am a data nerd. I love to keep records of everything.  You might call me an information packrat—I’m afraid of losing anything. At Tech, I’ve spent several weeks-worth of my life sitting in lecture halls listening to professors read their PowerPoint presentations while trying to scribble every bit of text down, because the professor isn’t going to post the slides online. Who knows when I’ll need to look up something I wrote down from my freshman classes?

It all started in high school when I was terrorized to realize that my notebooks and journals from middle school were seemingly deteriorating. Somehow all of my notes were fading, smearing and wrinkling. The smears are a result of writing notes with my left hand and the multitude of times I have referenced each page. If they could barely survive high school, how could I even ensure that they would last 10 years?

I was so excited to be able to finally use a laptop to take notes in college. This was never possible for me in high school because of the strict rules of my public school. When I was a freshman, I wanted to take all my notes electronically. I fiddled with the standard word processors, eventually becoming disappointed with how they handled formatting code and mathmatical symbols.

I persevered through these challenges into my second semester of freshman year because I felt like I had to take notes on my computer. You form a binding contract with yourself at the beginning of the semester: How are you going to take notes in this class? I couldn’t just switch from typing notes to paper. Blasphemy.

A new semester meant a new chance to change how I took notes. I looked into more specialized note-taking applications, specifically for outlining. I picked one, called OmniOutliner, that seemed perfect for note-taking. I was so excited.

Eventually, OmniOutliner wasn’t good enough. I realized that the ideal note-taking solution would have to support easy entry of complex symbols and diagrams.

Then came the iPad. How perfect—a computer that you can type notes into, but also has a touchscreen so you can draw and write using a stylus. Special note applications synced your notes to the cloud, so I didn’t have to worry about losing my data.

I tried really hard to make the iPad work for notes, but I just couldn’t get it to happen. I’m left-handed, and I kept accidentally rubbing the screen with the side of my hand when writing. I tried several different styluses, none of which offered the precision of a pencil, which meant constantly zooming in and out to write letters that didn’t fill half the screen.

My electronic note-taking dreams were finally crushed on the first day of classes junior year, when four out of five of my professors described their “no laptop” policy for their lectures. I was so disappointed. I would have to regress back to primitive tools again.

After spending years trying so hard to take digital notes, I realize that these primitive tools aren’t that bad. Yeah, my papers don’t sync with the cloud and I can’t speedily copy down every bullet point on every slide. Every semester, I see more and more iPads in class, each with a unique combination of applications, keyboards and styluses. Other pioneers in this digital note taking revolution. While I have failed to find the perfect way to take notes for classes and I am exhausted trying to figure it all out, I salute those of you that are still trying. Maybe in a few years, we’ll have our answer.